Ephrata’s Cookie Lady wins Food Network’s ‘Christmas Challenge’

By on November 26, 2019

Laura Merkel’s oatmeal-kiwi-white chocolate Christmas tree cookie tart with cream cheese buttercream icing earned her $10,000 as the winner of her episode of Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge.”

“I was completely shocked, both Megan and Miesha’s pieces were amazing!” said Merkel, commenting on the other contestants in the challenge.

“Christmas Cookie Challenge,” hosted by chef Eddie Jackson, challenges five new bakers in every episode.

The episode, which was filmed in February in Los Angeles, aired Saturday night, Nov. 23. Merkel, along with friends and family, joined in on a viewing party organized by the Northern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce at the Comfort Inn in Denver.

“The turnout for the viewing party was absolutely amazing,” said Merkel. “Between family, friends, customers, other business owners…it was amazing being able to share that moment with them!”

Merkel opened Laura the Cookie Lady, LLC, at 30 E. Main St., Ephrata, one year ago.
For the main cookie display challenge on Saturday night’s episode, Merkel created a two-layer cookie cream tart in the shape of a green-frosted Christmas tree.

Laura Merkel (left), celebrates her win with Liz Ackerman, executive director of the Northern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, at the viewing party held Nov. 23 at the Comfort Inn in Denver. Submitted photo.

Merkel’s large, tree-shaped oatmeal-kiwi-white chocolate cookies, with cream cheese buttercream icing sandwiched between, was topped with her classic sugar cookies decorated with royal icing as Christmas ornaments — stockings, stars, gingerbread men and snowflakes.

“When Eddie told us our challenge and they wanted something full of color, the first thing to pop into my head was a tree. I knew I would be able to build color with the mini cookie ornaments,” said Merkel.

The taste, structure and look of her winning cookie tart impressed the three Food Network personalities serving as judges: Ree Drummond, Gesine Prado and Dwayne Ingraham.

“I love it,” Ingraham said of Merkel’s tree tart. “This is Christmas to me.” He complimented her precise royal icing decorations on the sugar cookies.

Prado said that, in baking an oatmeal cookie, Merkel chose the perfect, woodsy-looking base for her tree.

“All the decorations are really thoughtful and show skill,” Prado added.

The viewing party for Merkel’s episode of Food Network’s ‘Christmas Cookie Challege’ on Nov. 23 attracted many viewers from around the area. Family members, friends, customers and even other business owners came out to support Merkel in her Food Network debut. Photo submitted by Northern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce.

Drummond enjoyed the taste of both the oatmeal and sugar cookies, and complimented her on the “wonderful combination” of the cookies and buttercream.
Three out of five bakers, including Merkel, made it through the initial cookie decorating challenge to compete in the final round.

“I think the most challenging part was just being out of my element. Not being in my own workspace, not having my things where they usually are, etc.,” said Merkel.

In the initial challenge, tasked with decorating two cookies using only white icing, representing indoor and outdoor Christmas scenes, Merkel baked an espresso-chocolate cookie that got high marks for taste and texture from the judges.
She decorated a Christmas stocking cookie with a knitted pattern and another one she said she modeled after the wreath and poinsettia decorations she puts on her front door during the holidays.

“The Food Network experience for me was something on my ‘cookie bucket list,’” Merkel said. “I have been watching the show for two seasons prior to this one and always thought it would be fantastic to be on it, but to be in the spotlight like that, on a time clock is so far out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially if we could compete with the same group again!”

Laura Merkel.

The episode featuring Merkel will air again on the Food Network at 11 p.m. Dec. 23 and 2 a.m. Dec. 24, and is available for watching via On Demand and some TV package streaming services.

A Long Island native and Ephrata resident, Merkel makes and sells a variety of decorated and flavored cookies, and offers cookie-decorating classes in a retail space next door to her bakery.

Mary Ellen Wright writes about food, arts and entertainment for LancasterOnline. She can be reached at mwright@lnpnews.com or 717-481-6131. Ephrata Review staff writer Emily Jacoby contributed to this story. 


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